Blog 07

The writer’s space in myth and legend

Where do you write?

In our Issue 3 blog series, we’re exploring the writer’s space. That spot where authors put down the words that later come to life in our heads is a constant source of fascination. You too, may have pored over occasional articles picturing where your favourite writers work. Where you choose to do it, what works for you, and what doesn’t. That’s a very individual thing, with no prescribed answer or ‘best practice’. With that in mind and a healthy dose of curiosity, we asked a few contributors to tell us a bit about their writing space.

First up is Clayton Foster, whose flash fiction piece ‘Crumbs’ brings a quiet slice of life in New Zealand’s capital to our third issue. Clayton lives in Wellington. He writes online content and does other marketing-type things for a living. He lives with his partner and his dog, both of whom steal the blankets in the middle of the night. 

The writer’s space in myth and legend

A writer’s space carries a sort of mythic quality, at least for a writer. When we’re young, those of us inclined to believe that sitting hunched over desks straining to pick the perfect pronoun might be a good sort of life daydream of what the ideal spot might be. We travel to go see where the writers we admire most wrote. We think, maybe, if we hover around, inhale, inspect the minutiae of the scene, we’ll inherit a little bit of genius.

This is what mine currently looks like (my space, not my genius):


I’m already kind of lying to you. I actually removed a pile of unfolded washing from the corner of the table before I took the photo (which was difficult to take; I had to push myself up against the ironing board to get an appropriate angle). You can see that I forgot the shirt and jeans over the back of the chair. Sorry.

My writing space is not impressive. It’s difficult to imagine starry-eyed future literature students beaming down via molecular teleporters into Mount Cook, Wellington, to ogle and gape at the $60-off-Trade Me desk and the crappy Vodafone wireless router that switches off once an hour. Though admittedly, the Michelangelo in the background might be worth something by then; I should order the glass display cabinet lest any of those sticky-fingered futurists get any ideas.

What on earth does it mean, that my writing space is in the back corner of the spare room, surrounded by boxes, board games and the warranty documents of cell phones purchased last decade?

It’s certainly a long way from what I thought my writing space would be, back when I thought being a writer was daydreaming of the perfect desk. Back then, it was all going to be ornate desks in massive studies (the types of rooms with ladders on rollers). Or perhaps the window seat of a hip café where the staff—and this is where you can tell it’s a fantasy—don’t mind how long you sit there.

(Note: the best writing spot I did ever have was in fact a hip café in Seoul: the MMMG. The staff honestly didn’t mind if I sat there for hours—I think they kind of liked the weird white guy frowning in the corner—and the fact that I couldn’t understand a word of Korean meant that I had the joy of being among people and swaddled in the aroma of coffee without ever being able to get distracted by conversations or magazines.)

Of course, back when I was daydreaming, I was to be a bestselling multimillionaire author (critically adored as well, of course). That hasn’t happened, in case the photo above didn’t convey as much.

Is the reality of my writing space, then, a representation of how my writing practice has been similarly sidelined into the metaphorical corner of the metaphorical spare room of my life? Is the writing space another in the long list of accidental symbolisms of childhood dreams compromised that I find myself stumbling over so often in my thirties?

Crikey, this is getting confrontational. I heard the comedian Patton Oswalt once say, “Wherever you are in your career is where you deserve to be.” Ruminate on that for a while should you ever want to ruin your day.

However. There is a second photo I took of my writing space. It’s this:


Sitting while writing at my cramped little desk in my cramped little room, I can look out into the lounge. I like writing with the door open. That’s a new thing. It used to be that I liked the door closed.

On this particular occasion, my dog Avon Barksdale is doing that weird thing that he does, sitting on the arm of the couch keeping an eye on the driveway. Today, he’s waiting for my partner to return home from the farmers’ market. So am I; she promised coffee.

See, this is where the dream writing space differs from the reality-based writing space in an unexpected way: the reality-based writing space isn’t shut away in a large room or anonymous in a hip café. It exists in my life, surrounded by the detritus of a real existence, both meaningless (a box for an iPhone I sold years ago) and profound (my dog, a creature to whom profundity may not be naturally applied, but who I am sure understands something I don’t about the universe. Apart from when he licks the toilet seat).

It’s not as magnificent as the ideal space, but it’s less lonely. There’s a dog and a soon-to-return girlfriend (with coffee). They’re both representative of a newfound stability that actually helps me write, as opposed to the chaos and drama that I thought a writing life would have to be based upon back in my twenties. Yes, it’s true that writing doesn’t happen as often as I once believed it would, but it’s better when it does. And when I’m finished, there’s a dog and a girlfriend (with coffee) to play with.

And credit where it’s due. No matter how long I sit here in my corner—writing, frowning, sighing—they haven’t yet asked me to pay the bill and leave.

Clayton Foster

Clayton Foster lives in Wellington. He writes online content and does other marketing-type things for a living. He lives with his partner and his dog, both of whom steal the blankets in the middle of the night. Say hi to him on Twitter at @sixfootmonkey.

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